Brace yourself, Reds fans. As ‘Game of Thrones’ character Ned Starks would say, “Winter is coming,” and that does not mean good things for the Redlegs.
There weren’t too many expectations placed on the Reds prior to the 2015 season, what with the team coming off a 2014 campaign that saw the squad lose 86 games. In hindsight, the lack of expectations was probably a good thing, as the team fell even harder this past season, dropping 98 games. To be fair, the team does play a majority of their games against the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, three teams who had excellent seasons and made postseason runs. If you can call that one-game playoff a postseason, but since the MLB does I suppose it counts.
At any rate, the year was rough for the Reds and their fans. Todd Frazier’s home run derby heroics were likely the highlight of the entire campaign, especially since fan favorite and staff ace Johnny Cueto got dealt to the eventual World Series champions in the Kansas City Royals a few weeks later.
Now, the Reds have never claimed to be in rebuilding mode. Rebuilding teams don’t sell tickets, and the Reds have to avoid using phrases like that if they want to draw anywhere near the 2.5 million fans they brought to Great American last season. They have, however, used the term reboot, which is interesting, considering the news that came out last week.
Walt Jocketty told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the Reds have “made that pretty explicit” regarding the team’s willingness to deal away pretty much anyone on the roster. Todd Fraizer, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman and even Joey Votto were mentioned in the list of potential players that could suit up for different teams next year, though the contracts of Phillips and Votto make dealing them hard.
Nonetheless, there is a strong likelihood that at least some combination of those players will not be here next season. The case could be made that Frazier should already have been dealt.
In 342 at-bats prior to the All-Star break, Frazier hit .284 with 25 home runs and 57 runs batted in with an on-base percentage up over .330. However, as the festivities ended, Frazier’s bat froze.
He hit just .220 the rest of the season and saw his on-base numbers drop 60 points. The cold streak that lasted the remainder of the season likely torpedoed any return on Frazier, costing the Reds a few potential prospects in the process.
Regardless, the team still has pieces to move. Jay Bruce hit just .226 last season but provides power at a corner outfield spot, something teams all over the league are looking for.
Are the Reds going to be able to get a player in return like New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler, who various rumors linked to the Reds at one point prior to last season’s deadline? Probably not, but any return that lands a few decent hitting prospects for Bruce can’t be scoffed at, especially since the team has outfielder Jesse Winkler on the rise in the minor leagues.
Pitching certainly isn’t a need for the Reds.
They started a rookie every single game last season after Cueto and Mike Leake were traded away, and flashes of brilliance could be seen from all of them at one point or another. The Mets made the World Series relying on young starters, and by no means am I saying the Reds and the Mets have similar pitching staffs, but age is just a number if the team is talented enough.
However, one Reds pitcher could certainly be dealt this offseason. Chapman has turned into arguably the best closer in baseball, and while bullpen roles come under fire on occasion, there’s no denying a guy like Chapman could make quite the difference for a team looking to lock down the ninth inning. Or two outs into the eighth inning, depending on the situation.
One big-name closer has already been traded this offseason. The Boston Red Sox sent four of their top-3o prospects to San Diego for Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel struck out 87 batters in 59.1 innings while collecting 39 saves for the Padres last season.
He and Chapman entered the league in the same year. Kimbrel made his major league debut May 7, 2010 with Chapman following on August 31. Since, Kimbrel has pitched roughly 30 more innings than Chapman, has earned nearly 80 more saves (though it is important to note Chapman didn’t become the team’s closer until 2012, Kimbrel took over in 2011), and has an ERA that is four-tenths of a run lower than the Reds’ closer.
Even more important than the on-field performance is what that leads to: the contracts. Chapman was arbitration eligible this season and will earn just over $8 million. Kimbrel signed a four-year deal with the Braves in 2014 and will earn $11 million this season and in 2017 before becoming arbitration eligible in 2018.
What does all of this mean? Basically, it means that while Chapman is the cheaper option, he’s a rental. Teams will only get one year of his services before he hits the free-agent market. Kimbrel, on the other hand, has three more years of team control, making him more valuable in terms of what the Padres get back.
Regardless of who the Reds decide to deal or what they get in return, the 2016 season is not shaping up to be one for the record books in the Queen City. All fans can do is hope the team makes the right moves.